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Hispanic ministry gets new boost in California

United Methodist clergy and lay leaders gather for a May 30-31 consultation to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the Hispanic community in the Los Angeles area. A UMNS photo by Humberto Casanova.

By Humberto Casanova*
June 17, 2008 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)
United Methodists in the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference are determined to boost their Hispanic ministry.

The Rev. Cathleen A. Coots

This year, the conference named the Rev. Emilio Müller director for Latino Ministries. Müller has 30 years of pastoral experience and has been with the denomination’s National Plan for Hispanic-Latino Ministry since its beginning.

Müller launched his ministry by organizing a consultation May 30-31 at Maywood (Calif.) United Methodist Church in the Los Angeles area.

The meeting was designed “to gather pastors and lay leaders, as well as members of the cabinet and the bishop, to grasp together the comprehensive view of what the (National Plan) has to offer and to engage in a process of envisioning and sharing,” Müller said. “This will enable us to begin the process of recruiting, training and deployment of teams (of) lay missioners and pastor-mentors to implement a new vision for the California-Pacific Conference some time at the end of this year.”

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who leads the Cal-Pac Conference, said the meeting was one of “numerous signs of hope” that she is seeing.

“The deep commitment of district superintendents, pastors and lay people is a sign of hope,” she said. “The coming of Emilio to work with us is another sign of hope. Our whole conference board of congregational development and their commitment, that’s another sign of hope. So there are several signs of hope of people really willing to invest time and learning and resources to lead towards the future that we dream of.”

The dream includes starting three Hispanic congregations in each of the conference’s eight districts.

Workshops were facilitated by the Rev. Francisco Cañas, national coordinator for the National Plan for Hispanic-Latino Ministry; Dionisio Salazar, Board of Global Ministries assistant general secretary for Hispanic-Latino Ministries; and the Rev. Conrado Soltero, Emmanuel United Methodist Church, El Paso, Texas.

In his workshop, Cañas explained why reaching out to the Latino population is a priority for the California-Pacific Conference. “The evidence is unquestionable,” he said. He cited four points:
  • After Brazil and México, the United States is the country with the largest Latino population in the whole world. As of July 2007, the United States had a documented Latino population of 45.5 million.
  • The Hispanic population of the Western Jurisdiction exceeds 18 million, which represents the largest concentration of Latinos in any of the denomination’s five U.S. jurisdictions.
  • The state of California has the largest concentration of Latinos (13.2 million) within the Western Jurisdiction and more than any other state of the union. More than a third of California’s population is Hispanic/Latino.
  • California-Pacific has only 25 Hispanic elders in full connection and 13 local pastors (six only part-time), creating a large ratio of members per minister.

‘Unbelievable’ growth

It is impossible to exaggerate the need for an aggressive ministry among Hispanic people in California, according to Müller. “The numbers are staggering, and the growth is unbelievable. At the present time, the city of Los Angeles, to use an example, is 53 percent Hispanic. There are areas where Hispanics make up 70 to 80 percent of the population.

Attending the consultation are (from left) the Rev. Emilio Müller, the Rev. Francisco Cañas, the Rev. Conrado Soltero and Dionisio Salazar. A UMNS photo by Humberto Casanova.

“Hispanics are here in very large numbers,” he continued. “And this growth, by the way, is not out of people crossing the border. The growth we see is caused primarily by birth rate.”

The conference believes it has a good witness to offer, Bishop Swenson said. “We know this has to be a priority of the annual conference, and we are ready to do that. It’s also a priority of mine as the bishop.”

The large number of Latinos indicates the need for more intentional efforts in reaching out to that community, said the Rev. Cathleen A. Coots, Santa Barbara District superintendent. In her area, the San Fernando Valley has many cities where the majority of the population is Hispanic.

“Certainly, we have fewer ministries overall within the Hispanic community than we had approximately 15 years ago,” she said. “I’d say we have more now perhaps than we had even a couple years ago because there is a new resurgence going on right now. We have just done a poor job of reaching out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters.”

Another obstacle has been that Hispanic churches quickly become family churches. “You have just a few families who gather together to enjoy one another’s company, and it doesn’t become a solid community that keeps reaching out to new people.”

New energy

The effort to boost Hispanic ministry is the result of renewal within the whole conference, Coots said. “Overall, our conference as a whole has a tremendous new energy and enthusiasm for congregational development. In the last six years, the board of congregational development has poured training and resources to pastors and congregations. Bishop Swenson is determined to make the conference better in witnessing to the community.”

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson speaks on immigration at an April 25 press conference.
A UMNS file photo by Maile Bradfield.

Coots noted that, three years ago, the Rev. Jim Conn was appointed to lead the conference’s New Ministries office and is working closely with Müller. The New Ministries office reflects the emphasis on starting and revitalizing congregations.

The conference is establishing a new strategic committee, Swenson said. “We’ll be using lay missioners and doing leadership training and leadership development with lay missioners. We are also having Course of Study efforts, and we are developing a training center and place for doing training. So we are hoping that, over the next four years, we can have three new Hispanic congregations in every district.”

With eight districts, that would equal 24 new Latino congregations for the conference.

Swenson concluded with words of hope. “As I work in our dream for Hispanic and Latino congregations and the development of this ministry in our region, I really believe (this) is all about planting seeds of hope, nurturing seeds of hope, pruning, flowering—all in order to really bear good fruit.”

*Casanova is associate editor of Spanish resources at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Humberto Casanova, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5490 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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